The refugee team that inspired Afghanistan

Written by Staff Writer CNN International’s Almaz Salama introduces us to “The Tannery Team”, a collection of Afghan refugees, who risked their lives to help 86 members of Afghanistan’s sports community escape the country….

The refugee team that inspired Afghanistan

Written by Staff Writer

CNN International’s Almaz Salama introduces us to “The Tannery Team”, a collection of Afghan refugees, who risked their lives to help 86 members of Afghanistan’s sports community escape the country.

Having fled their home in Afghanistan, where they had spent many years shuttling back and forth to work, the Hazara refugees assembled their things and headed off with their young children.

A “rakyat – or ragtag group” – they traveled by foot from the village of Banda Koronik where they had been living, down to Murzawa, a thriving town by the Chaman border. Bannu , the nearest large city, would have had its own problems.

Entranced by Afghanistan’s historic importance as a source of hope and inspiration, these “tragics”, as one named them, stayed behind in Murzawa, a town where tea shops, strong sellers, and even barbers were proliferating. The Hazara, ethnically distinct from the Persian-speaking Pashtuns living within reach of Kabul, had felt that they had been constantly marginalized by this evolving new order.

A conservative culture in a fiercely religious Muslim country, the Hazara had felt they needed to be especially careful and discreet while entering the city, and had gone into hiding.

While in Murzawa, the 28 or so Hazara refugees went into hiding for a period. They dug out doors from some houses and made makeshift shelters. The roof of one house was covered with bedding, people slept where they could, the floor included small benches so people were less likely to step on each other, and a silk bed had been made by the roofers from a suit coat.

“The Afghan people are the best – if I can show our energy and humanity in different ways”, or so says Mirza Sultan, a member of the Tannery Team.

To top this, the Hazara had nothing to do with children’s sports, despite the existence of a principal. That was where the Afghan youths came in.

Afghan athletes had run in “sizzling heat” at the Asian Games in Jakarta, and won medals as well as being very popular in their country. The Hazara could not find any on its own, though. The only competition available to them had come from the sports teams set up by the countries that had been involved in the war, especially India and Pakistan.

Feeling empowered by being able to run around in the streets of Peshawar, the Pakistani city next to Murzawa where the Taliban would normally have fled had they been able to give up the protection of the United Nations, the Hazara began to form a sports team for their community.

“The Afghan people are the best – if I can show our energy and humanity in different ways”, or so says Mirza Sultan, a member of the Tannery Team.

When they were caught by the Taliban, they had nothing. Seized at gunpoint and flown in a helicopter, where they were unarmed and treated harshly by the insurgents, the Hazara had to exchange the hospitality of Peshawar for that of the Peshawar residents.

As such, they found themselves unable to go back to their former place of abode, save for a short holiday, and after that period had passed, many of them still found themselves not being able to return home as they had no relatives there.

The extremists used religion as an excuse for human rights violations, and the Hazara felt justified in leaving the country. The moral difference was that they were angry at the Taliban and found themselves angry at Afghanistan at large. Their goal, to create jobs for their own youth, and to secure their own future, was very simple.

The Afghan government and President Ashraf Ghani had started to take the Hazara issue seriously. On a sunny Monday morning in January, the first International Day of the Afghan Deaf, the center of Kabul was given a special place in an exhibition of the handicraft of the Deaf. “This is the heart of the world for us,” said Mirza Sultan, who lost much of his hearing at the age of eight.

The National Sports Organization for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Afghanistan had invited 15 of the deaf sports people to display their skills in TV programs which were followed by hundreds of thousands of Afghans.

“Today, we are able to proudly say we are the next best sports people in Afghanistan,” says the president of the Institute of Deaf, Adem Walaty.

In the car trunk of Mirza Sultan, a 3 year old-girl climbs up the seat and whispers “I want to be an Olympian.” I also want to be an Olympian, says Mirza Sultan, who

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